It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter IX (Part II)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writing Month Contest. As of this post, he has passed the 36,000 word mark, and is praying that the tryptophan in Thanksgiving Turkey will ease the pain a bit.)

They both picked up pens, of which Stew’s was the novelty kind with the giant feather, and grabbed sheets of blank paper.

“Write down the following and sign your name to it: 'I, your name… do not literally write ‘your name’…'”

“Should we write down the part about not literally writing down ‘your name’?” asked Nuffy.

The malice behind my stare was enough to silence him.

“'I, etc. etc., hereby promise and affirm that I will not reveal any secrets regarding the Phoenix Corporation to any other living human being, including spouses, children, other close relatives, or therapists.'”

Stew gave me a quizzical look as he quickly penned the requisite phrase. “Therapists?” he asked.

“Trust me; it’ll make more sense in a short while. Sign them.”

They signed the papers. I knew that this was nothing close to the equivalent of signing a legal document, but I hoped that, should we be confronted by Phoenix officials or others in the government that it would be seen as an acceptable makeshift solution, given their current involvement.

“All right,” I said, taking the papers and placing them into my desk drawer, “sit down. You’re going to want to be sitting for this.”

They both looked at each other the way two sane debaters will when confronted with another one who is not sane at all but has the floor. They sat down.

“All right, there’s no real time to go into detail, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible.”

This statement made them both laugh out loud. It was true; I am a wordy person. I think it comes to some extent from taking an English degree at University. When you are exposed daily to a plethora of words and phrases, the tendency is to develop habits which incorporate those words and phrases, and chief amongst these is a kind of good-natured peroration, the kind found among University professors, older vicars, and well-meaning politicians. Some people, mostly the rest of the politicians and certain philosophers, devolve into pure bloviation, in the politicians case in between asking for or actually receiving large sums of cash.

Another reason for my wordiness was growing up in a family of six, all of whom were effective and dedicated conversationalists. My wife, who is an only child, has always been amazed at how my family can maintain two to three simultaneous conversations in the same small room, often with the participants interchangeable from one conversation to the next. The simple fact of the matter is, that if you had something to say, you’d better say as much of it as possible while you can. We all learnt this and the results were that as we grew up we became capable of maintaining conversations of incredible length, especially amongst ourselves. I recall a four hour journey by car with my youngest brother, in which, approximately 20 minutes into the journey, we began a discussion on the contrasting merits of film and stage. We had to end the conversation because we came to the conclusion of our trip, three hours and 40 minutes later. I’m not sure we ever did properly end the conversation, so if he’s reading this, just let me say that while the immediacy of the stage and the connection to the audience are wonderful things, film is vastly superior for the reasons I stated during the drive, if you can remember them…So there.

The main reason for my and the wordiness of my brothers is genetics. Our mum is, without a doubt, the world’s champion talker. I reckon, and I say this with all love and in some awe, that she could out talk a Texan cattle auctioneer without having to change the subject of the conversation or take more than three complete breaths. This is a woman in whom parrots lived in mortal terror of. If she were to ever be in a situation where a sign-language interpreter had to interpret her remarks, that poor intermediary would hack themselves to death with their own hands trying to keep up. A very skilled sign-language interpreter might merely collapse from exhaustion, having avoided injuring themselves. This is a woman for whom silence is merely empty space that badly needs filling.

Anyway, after the brief laughter from Stew and Nuffy died down, for they knew that following it up with any jokes would only distract me from revealing to them some answers to this mystery, and also that I might go on for up to 10 minutes about it.

“All right, the first thing you need to know is that my former boss at Phoenix is not really named Mudge Guthrie.”

They stared in anticipation, because quite frankly, there was nothing too amazing about that statement.

“His real name is…” I stopped, walked over to the door and stuck my head out in the hallway to see if anyone was nearby. I closed the door and walked over to the windows to see if anyone was standing outside. I check all the telephone receivers to see if they were on the hook or not. I suddenly realised the possibility that the office was bugged, either by Mr. Wang, Phoenix, or some other entity. If so, the DVD had probably been deciphered by now, and my own comments had at least given away the fact the Mudge Guthrie was not Mudge Guthrie at all.

I could take no more chances.

“Come with me,” I quietly commanded Stew and Nuffy. They remained seated, which was not unexpected.

“Come with me if you want to learn more,” I elaborated. This got them up and headed for the door.

“Nuffy, is there any chance you have any attire available that is… well, less conspicuous?” I implored.
“Give me five minutes,” he replied and headed out the door. Twelve minutes later he returned, wearing a heavy flannel shirt, a jacket, jeans, and trainers.

“Why didn’t you come in dressed that way in the first place?” Stew asked.

“I didn’t know we’d be going out.”

We walked out the door, locked the office, and made our way to the parking lot. I suggested taking Nuffy’s car, a dark-coloured, mid-sized Japanese model, in case my car and Stew’s car were bugged also. We climbed into the car, Stew and Nuffy in the front and I in the back, and I told Nuffy to just start driving.

“Where to?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter right now.”

“You do know how much gas costs these days, right?” he replied.

“I’ll pay for the petrol, just drive.” He gave me a long look of doubt.

“Oh, all right, head for the airport.”

Nuffy started the car, put it in gear and pulled out of the parking lot.

“All right,” Stew said from the passenger seat, “why did we have to get into the car to hear this?”

“I couldn’t be sure the office wasn’t bugged.”

“You think that Mr. Wang bugged the office?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I just can’t take any chances.”

“This must be some good stuff,” Nuffy observed, with just a touch of anticipation in his voice.

“You have no idea. All right, here goes.” They both tilted their ears towards the back of the car. “My ex-boss at Phoenix only used the name Mudge Guthrie as a cover. His real name was…”

I took a very large breath. The words didn’t seem to want to come out.

“…Does either of you have a bottle of water. I think I need a drink or I’m going to be sick.”

Nuffy and Stew shook their heads. I remembered coming back home from my first full day in my new job at the Phoenix Corporation. My wife was standing in the kitchen, preparing spaghetti for dinner that evening. I walked in, looked around to make sure my daughter wasn’t in the room, and then, after giving my wife the gentlest of kisses on her forehead, said to her in the most quietly serious voice I could muster, “Luv, my new boss is Richard Nixon.”

I will remember her exact reply until the day I die: “Oh, that’s nice dear.”

This was followed by a very slow turn in my direction and a series of questions, the answers to which left her wondering whether I should consider psychiatric care. For the first month or so, she viewed me with guarded concern, especially after I told her about Walt. Eventually, even though she was never allowed to visit Phoenix herself, she came to accept my story as true.

“It does explain why you’ve been so jumpy when the Disney Channel’s on,” she observed.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that much of the Disney royalties were dedicated to the unrealized plans of financing a cyborg body for Walt.

In any case, remembering the initial skepticism with which my wife greeted the news that Richard Nixon was not only still alive, but was ordering her husband to fetch coffee and track down videotapes of college football games from 1969, I relaxed a little bit at the prospect of telling another human being this immense secret.

“My ex-boss is really Richard Milhous Nixon,” I blurted out.

Their expressions immediately took on a quizzical nature.

“Yes, that Richard Milhous Nixon,” I added.

“Thirty-seventh President of these United States?” Stew asked.

“Right.”

“Watergate Nixon?” Nuffy inquired.

“Right in one.”

“Tricky Dick?” Stew added.

“Exactly, only I wouldn’t call him that in public,” I advised.

They both took quick deep breaths and slowly exhaled them out.

“Listen, Earl… if you don’t trust us enough to tell us what’s going on…” Stew began.

“It’s the truth, Stew,” I replied. “Nixon… My boss for two years…the paranoia, the narcissism, the incisive dissection of geopolitical politics, and the obsession with football and with his enemies.”

Nuffy glanced at Stew with a look that asked, “Is Earl presently taking any psychotropic medications, or should he be?”

“Right,” I said, “…the video, the crazy nutter barking the word Yangtze. You said he sounded like Nixon, right?”

“Yeah, well…”

“Remember the face in the video, forget the mask for a second, and just think of the eyes, the beady little eyes, bloodshot and unblinking…think of the tufts of grey hair coming off the wrinkled brow. Imagine that voice…remember he’s a good bit older… hear the voice again…and imagine the face, imagine the mask being gone, being pulled away…”

Their eyes suddenly grew wide as they realised they had actually seen him right there on the video.

“Oh, crap!” Stew muttered.

“Nixon?” Nuffy asked disbelievingly as he and Stew swung their heads back in my direction.

“Nixon,” I said, nodding slowly, “…and that’s not the crazy-sounding part…Nuffy! Look out!!!”

Nuffy swung his head around and swerved the car back into the right lane, to the great relief of a little old lady and the five cats in her Volkswagen.

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